I saw POETRY last week and was moved by many elements, one of which being the simple fact that this long, contemplative feature is about — sit down now — an elderly female protagonist. Hollywood it ain’t. Sixty-six year old Mija (Jeong-hie Yun) has two recent challenges: memory loss and a sullen teenage grandson, whose escapades with his friends, we later discover, make the trouble one hundred fold for his grandma. In fact, in Lee’s accomplished second feature, the world of men – their desires and back-room dealings — are the root of most of Mija’s problems, and her quiet strategies toward solutions are a major force of subversion, even rebellion. But does she feel like a kick-ass protagonist with a big bad agenda? Hell, no.
Though the ‘Asia Extreme’ moniker has only been around since 2005, Asian cinema, particularly from Hong Kong and Japan, has a long and illustrious history with cutting edge genre fare, and has been producing and distributing envelope-pushing films for nearly fifty years. While these films rarely found a home outside of their native countries, their taboo-busting efforts were not unnoticed at home where they had loyal and dedicated followers.
Vengeance as a core theme is no stranger to Asian cinema, and it’s been employed by directors working in genre cinema (Shunya Ito’s FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION) as well as those catering to the arthouse crowd (Akira Kurosawa’s THE BAD SLEEP WELL). Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL films were an amalgam of Asian revenge films; everything from Hong Kong Kung-Fu flicks of the 70s to Toshiya Fujita’s LADY SNOWBLOOD series.